Listening…

'1996 Jocassee Quiet Solitude' photo (c) 2007, anoldent - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 
1 Kings 19:11-12

I’m a fan of the internet. 

It’s where I connect with you. It’s where I encounter all sorts of new ideas and perspective and interesting people. It’s where I get to practice writing daily. It’s where I first learned of chocolate cake mix waffles. 

But I need a break. I need some “wilderness time”—both figuratively and literally—to rest, to quiet myself, and to just listen for a little while. 

In our hyper-connected world, its’ easy to forget that listening is the most important part of the writing process and a critical component to faith. With all the chatter, with all the rhetorical earthquakes and windstorms and wildfires that rush in and out of our lives each day, it can be hard to quiet ourselves long enough to recognize the gentle whisper of God. 

So that’s what I’m going to do, or at least try to do, for the next couple weeks. I’m signing off the internet—Twitter, Facebook, the blog, Pinterest, (even WebMD unless that rash comes back)—not because the internet is bad, but because it’s a tool that I want to use for good and I can’t do that when I’m burned out. 

…Well, I probably could, but after a while y’all would notice.

Right now the plan is to be “back” July 22, at which time we will pick up our interview series on hell with “Ask a traditionalist…” 

In the meantime, people often tell me that they read the blog religiously, but haven’t gotten around to reading my books. This is always a little embarrassing for me because I save my best, most personal writing for my books and tend to hammer out most of my blog posts before I’ve even had my second cup of coffee in the morning, which is a hazy, disorienting time in which I am strictly prohibited from making important life decisions or ordering things from the internet. So—shameless plug—if you really want to hear from me over the next few weeks, consider adding Evolving in Monkey Town or A Year of Biblical Womanhood to your summer reading list. Both are almost entirely coherent, which will be a nice change of pace. 

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Or, here are some of my favorite posts from the last few years, which are at least 45-60% coherent: 

“Enough: Or, why we should all be laughing hysterically in the magazine aisle” 

God Can’t Be Kept Out”

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” 

“The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart”

“How to Watch an Entire Season of The Bachelor and Still Be Too Good For It”

“Holy Week for Doubters”

“Confessions of an Accidental Feminist”

“Ashamed”

 “They Were Right (And Wrong) About the Slippery Slope”

“Blessed Are the Uncool”

“Why I don’t witness to people on airplanes”

“I Love the Bible”

Mutuality 2012

Women of the Passion Series 

Loving the Bible for What It Is, Not What We Want it to Be - Bible Series 

“10 Cool Things We’ve Done in 1,000 Posts”

You can also check out our most popular posts (which I recently updated), our Ask a…” interview series (which includes everything from “Ask a Stay-at-Home-Dad” to “Ask a Pentecostal” to “Ask Jennifer Knapp” to “Ask N.T. Wright”) or our Women of Valor guest post series. 

As always, I am grateful beyond words for your readership, insights, and the amazing conversations we have here. Thanks for allowing me to be a small part of your lives. 

 

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When Mark Driscoll, Brian McLaren, Ann Voskamp and I are all at the same block party

That’s sorta what it feels like to scroll through my Google Reader each morning. 

Only it’s much less awkward. 

Usually Jenny Lawson breaks the ice with a bizarre, profanity-laced story about a mummified bat (or peasant or ferret); then Scot McKnight jumps in with his thoughts on the latest biblical scholarship, followed by an update from NPR on today’s news. Then, either Sarah Bessey or Glennon Melton makes me cry, either Jamie Wright or Jen Hatmaker makes me laugh, either Richard Beck or Christena Cleveland makes me think, and either Al Mohler or someone from The Gospel Coalition makes me mad. Then there’s a picture of feminist Ryan Gosling or an adorable crying toddler and everything is okay again. 

Such is the joy of subscribing to a variety of different blogs from a variety of different bloggers. 

So when I learned Google Reader would be shutting down July 1, I panicked a little. How will I keep track of all these bloggers? How will my readers keep track of me? How will I pick Sunday Superlatives? How will I know about these 23 awesome cats who are plotting their owners’ demise? THIS IS IMPORTANT STUFF, PEOPLE!  

Fortunately, I found an alternative pretty quickly, as exemplified by the conversation at our breakfast table this morning:  

Rachel: “Guess what. I switched my RSS reader from Google Reader to Feedly all by myself.” 

Dan: “You mean you clicked the big green button that said ‘import feed from Google Reader’?” 

Rachel: “Yes, all by myself.” 

So after worrying for three months about losing my precious Google Reader, the switch to Feedly was that easy, even for the technologically challengd like me. 

So, for those of you who already subscribe to this blog in Google Reader, I recommend switching to Feedly. (If that doesn’t work for you, check out “12 Google Reader Alternatives.”)  

For those of you who have yet to subscribe to my blog, you can do that here.*

And for those of you looking to update your reader, here are some suggestions for blogs that might be just under your radar: 

 

Richard Beck (Experimental Theology): Richard is thoughtful, wise, curious, and kind, both in person and in his writing. His blog examines the interface of Christian theology and psychology with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice. Subscribe to Richard’s blog if you like looking at things from a new angle.

Jonathan Martin: Pastoral, in the very best sense of the word. Be sure to check out his sermon podcasts too.

Christena Cleveland: Practical, challenging thoughts on privilege, racial reconciliation, faith, and relationships. I just recently discovered Christena and am so grateful for her voice. 

Jamie The Very Worst Missionary: Just read her latest post if you need any more convincing.  

Peter Enns: Pete’s been on a blogging roll lately and is swiftly becoming my favorite theology blogger. Lots of room on his blog for discussion, differences of opinion, and honest searching. If you’re wrestling with harmonizing your faith and your intellectual integrity, I can’t recommend Pete’s blog enough. 

John Blase: It’s hard to find good poetry online. John’s consistently takes my breath away it’s so beautiful. 

Deeper Story: What I love about Deeper Story is its diversity of voices, brought together by consistently fantastic writing. You’ll hear from Kristen Howerton, Preston Yancey, Emily Maynard and a host of others, and their stories will stick with you throughout the day.  

She Loves: My favorite place to “meet” new writers. Often includes international perspectives, which is nice. 

Pinterest You are Drunk: For a laugh.

Kristen Rosser (at Wordgazer’s Words): One of the best writers on biblical support for gender equality. (You will remember Kristen wrote a guest post for us entitled, “Is Marriage Really an Illustration of Christ and the Church?”)

Addie Zierman (How To Talk Evangelical): Addie’s a natural. Love her writing. And she’s got a book coming out this fall that you’re going to love. 

Micha Boyett: When I think of Micha, the word “steward” comes to mind. She has a real gift for using her online platform to bring us something beautiful with each post. Her guest post series on “one good phrase” has been fantastic. 

Ed Cyzewski: Consistently thoughtful and always open to feedback, Ed’s one of the humbles and wisest writers I know. 

Zack Hunt (The American Jesus): Everyone loves Zack’s annual installment of “American Jesus Madness,” but his blog is so much more than that. In addition to witty commentary on religion and culture, Zack writes thoughtful and accessible reflections on theology, as well as deeply personal, engaging stories like this one about the news that he and his wife are expecting. 

On Pop Theology: I just started following this blog and am loving it so far. Just an eclectic, easy-to-read collection of commentaries and insights on Christianity and pop culture. I often steal from their weekly roundup for Sunday Superlatives. 

Justin Lee: Justin manages to write about being a gay Christian in America with the sort of patience, openness, and grace that will astound you. He has a way of cutting through all the noise to bring us true redemption songs. 

D.L. Mayfield: Asks the hard questions about what it means to live in the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus. 

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I subscribe to over 200 blogs, so obviously, I’m leaving out a BUNCH of people whose blogs I absolutely love. These were just a few that might be flying under your radar. 

So what blogs do you subscribe to? And Google people, have you found a new Reader? 

And don't forget to subscribe to this blog if you haven't already! Makes reading a lot easier.  

 

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FAQ Friday (Video): How do you handle controversy?

Today is the second entry in a video series I'll be doing to respond to some of your frequently asked questions. When I solicited questions from readers a few weeks ago, this one from Laura was one of the most popular: 

Something I'm constantly amazed by is your ability to take things that are so emotional and sometimes (for me anyway) infuriating and you are able to approach them from a place of peace, a place that is looking for common ground. How did/do you get to that place? And how do you personally distinguish between "someone is offended" and "I was offensive"; how do you know when your words could have been more gentle or helpful or when the other person just isn't ready to hear your message, regardless?

Here's my response. It's a little rough, my hair looks terrible (thanks, Southern humidity), and you can see my messy kitchen in the background, but "being real and vulnerable" is hip right now...right? 

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Forgive Me

For my readers:

Forgive me—

When I say too much,

When I don’t say enough,

When I write out of anger,

When I write without feeling,

When I get it right (and I know it),

When I get it wrong (and I don’t),

When my motives become a tangled mix of evil and good and I can’t for the life of me sort them all out.

I wish you knew how often I second-guess myself, how aware I am of my own shortcomings, how grateful I am for your attention and input, how in-over-my-head I feel sometimes, how desperately I want to do right by you.  

I stand by the message of yesterday’s post--that the theology of "deserved" tragedy has serious, ugly consequences--but I owe it to you to tackle big topics like this with as much care, precision, and grace as possible.  So if I failed in that way, I’m sorry. 

I assumed Piper was saying the same thing about this tragedy as he has said about many other tragedies in the past, and  jumped the gun in my response as a result. I should have waited for him to clarify what he meant  instead of assuming the worst. For that, I am sorry. 

Be patient with me.

I’m figuring this out as I go.

Thank you for taking the journey with me.

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When it comes to controversy, avoid these two extremes...

'I Don't Know What We're Yelling About!' photo (c) 2010, Martha Soukup - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In “real life,” when you have new friends over for dinner, you don’t usually begin by passing the potatoes and asking about their views on gay marriage. (If you’re at my house, we at least wait until dessert!) 

But online, we get right to it. Whether it’s through a Facebook status, a blog post, or a tweet, we shout our thoughts from virtual rooftops, where they are met with questions, affirmations, pushback, or outrage. 

I believe both forms of communication are important and can be life-changing. In my travels, as I’ve met so many of you face-to-face, I’ve come to see that “real life” and “online life” should not be regarded as separate spheres, but as connected. I’ll never forget the church that beautifully integrated words from my blog posts into their liturgy one Sunday morning, or the painter who rendered a chapter from my book into art, or the young man who composed a song around this post, or the pastor who made last-minute adjustments to his Easter service to ensure that women had a voice in proclaiming the resurrection, or the church that changed its policies regarding abuse because of our series on the topic, or those of you who have sponsored children, worked the blessing of “eshet chayil!” into your life in creative ways, or finally had that breakthrough conversation with your gay son or daughter— all because of conversations we’ve had here on the blog.  I am especially grateful for the ways in which online dialog has helped bring the issue of gender equality in the church back to the forefront, sparking a wave of new writers, new publishing deals, and new perspectives every day. 

It is precisely because words have real-life consequences that, occasionally, a post or a speech or even a tweet is regarded as controversial among Christians. Since I write fairly often on the topics of gender, doubt, the Church, and biblical interpretation, I’ve been through my fair share of controversy within Christian circles, and in those experiences, I’ve noticed two extreme responses that I think we should avoid: 

1. “This is controversial, so it MUST be wrong.” 

This response is often generated in the name of preserving Christian unity.  

In my experience, it goes like this: Someone writes something at the Gospel Coalition or Desiring God about the importance of preserving hierarchal gender roles in the Church. I write a post outlining my disagreements with that position. People on both sides weigh in, and things get a little heated. I get a bunch of angry or tearful emails about how I’m sowing disunity in the Church and how “The Enemy” must be loving every minute of this because all this controversy is ruining our Christian witness to the world. I should have left well enough alone. 

Now, I absolutely believe that Christian unity is important, and I would break the bread of communion in a heartbeat with folks like Mark Driscoll or John Piper whose views on gender roles I oppose. But unity does not mean uniformity. And while some controversy may in fact indicate unhealthy friction; it is just as common for controversy to indicate the sort of healthy friction that emerges from positive change. 

The early Church was not without controversy, precisely because of all the uncomfortable change associated with bringing together Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female, rich and poor, as partners in experiencing and sharing the Gospel. One thing I love about the epistles of Scripture is the way in which the writers negotiate these tensions without calling for absolute agreement, but instead calling for absolute love in the midst of disagreement. 

A brief survey of history reveals that controversy within the Church often arises during times of social, political, and scientific change.  Was Martin Luther King Jr. “sowing disunity” when he wrote his powerful, piercing letter to fellow clergy from the Birmingham Jail? 

I have found that the response, “this is controversial so it MUST be wrong” is most effectively invoked by those with an interest in preserving the status quo. 

Those most threatened by calls for change are those who benefit from things staying as they are, so look out for people in positions of power who dismiss any sort of dissent or disagreement as troublemaking. (Sometimes things indeed need to stay as they are, but sometimes things need to change.)

Of course, for controversy to be helpful and productive, it must emerge from conversations that are fair, reasoned, charitable, and thoughtful, not from conversations that involve vague accusations or personal attacks. (More on this at the end of the post.) But controversy does not necessarily indicate an absence of the Spirit. In fact, sometimes it indicates the presence of the Spirit. 

2. “This is controversial, so it MUST be right.”  

On the other hand, folks embroiled in constant controversy can also fall into the trap of overconfidence. 

Sometimes folks will encourage me by saying, “You’ve generated a lot of controversy; you must be doing something right!” While there is certainly some truth to this, (if you take a stand on anything, you will likely face criticism), we have to be careful of taking it too far by assuming that any pushback or disagreement we receive is an indication of our righteousness. 

Christians often frame this in terms of persecution. A pastor will assume that the negative responses to a controversial statement he made in a sermon or through a Facebook status cannot possibly be worthy critiques of his position, but rather the kind of “persecution” Christians can expect to receive for saying and doing the right thing. (Note: Being uncomfortable is not the same as being persecuted, but that’s a topic of another day!)  So he refuses to entertain the idea that any of his critiques might have a point, and instead interprets any pushback as only further confirmation of his rightness. 

This is an unhealthy attitude toward controversy because it closes us off to constructive criticism. The reality is, an overwhelmingly negative reaction from readers/parishioners/friends may in fact indicate a misstep or mistake. This is why I created an entire category for apologies and corrections. Because sometimes I’m wrong, and often you guys are the first to correct me on it! 

This is not to say I’ve mastered the art of responding well to healthy, constructive criticism. I haven’t. But I’m learning, from experience, that just as pushback doesn’t automatically mean I’m wrong, it doesn’t automatically mean I’m right. 

Some Guides: 

So how do we know when the controversy we’re generating is healthy and when it’s unhealthy?

There’s no formula, but there are some good guides to help us as we navigate these waters:

First, I recommend surrounding yourself with a group of friends and family you respect and trust, and when you find yourself embroiled in controversy, ask them for advice and guidance. Those who know you best will know when you have veered off course. And if someone you really respect (including a reader or a fellow writer) is offering pushback, it’s best to suck up your pride and listen because they probably have a point. 

Second, check your privilege. If I’m writing about homosexuality, for example, I make an effort to consult with LGBT folks ahead of time, and I try to remain especially open to their advice, perspective, and critiques as I venture into territory with which they are much more familiar than I. As a white, Western, middle-class woman, I enjoy some privileges that others do not, and I am often blinded by my own cultural assumptions and biases. Realizing this has convicted me to listen more carefully to the input and critiques of those whose ethnicity, orientation, background, or life experiences are different from my own…especially if these voices are coming from the margins, from the “outliers.”  If you are a blogger, be especially open to guest posts, interviews, and book discussions when tackling topics like abuse, mental illness, gender issues, homosexuality, poverty, and injustice...because some stories just aren't yours to tell. But you can use your platform to give someone else the chance to tell theirs. Also, if you are a man writing about women’s roles in the home and Church, please, for the love, at least entertain the idea that you might not know exactly what it's like to be a woman. 

Third, fight fair. For tips on this, I recommend checking out an older post,  “How to write a controversial blog post with no regrets.” There I talk about the importance of keeping critiques specific, avoiding personal attacks, watching your tone, and waiting before responding to a conversation that elicits an emotional response.  I’m still learning, and I still make mistakes, but these principles have helped out a lot. 

***

No doubt you have experienced one or both of these extremes: “This is controversial, so it MUST be wrong!” or “This is controversial, so it MUST be right!” How have you responded to them? How have you been complicit in them? How can we better avoid them? 

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.